Due to a phenomenon known as “Spring Break,” I’ve seen too many movies and listened to too much music (and finished a book). Therefore, I’m splitting this media review into two. So beginneth number I:
The Interrupters: Reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved and watching the first season of The Wire this semester have opened my eyes in a way to the reality of the atrocities that happen in this nation. The Interrupters, a new documentary from Steve James (who made another great documentary in the ’90s, Hoop Dreams), has only deepened this understanding. Set in Chicago, The Interrupters is about an organization called CeaseFire that employs “violence interrupters” in an effort to prevent gang killings. These interrupters come from criminal and gang backgrounds; they use their experience to speak truth into the lives of endangered young men and women in Chicago. The documentary focuses on three of the interrupters: Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, and Eddie Bocanegra, all three of whom come through as very sincere and good at their job.
I was drawn into this movie from the start; it doesn’t pull any punches. Matthews is shown breaking up a knife fight. Williams takes one of the boys he is helping to a barbershop he stuck up several years ago to apologize. Bocanegra helps out at a school and listens to children talking about people in their lives dying. It’s incredible what James happens to be around to capture on his camera; the implication is that these sorts of things are happening far too often. At some point in early 2009, there were as many people killed on the streets of Chicago as soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Great movie- it’s a sad depiction of unbroken cycles. Some of these people don’t get better. Some don’t get out. But then some do. There is hope in the end.
Three Kings: Quick, name your favorite Persian Gulf War movie! If you don’t know what the Persian Gulf War is, it’s that other war we fought in Iraq under the other President Bush in the early ’90s. If you don’t have a favorite Persian Gulf War movie, that’s because there aren’t many. Or because the ones that do exist, suck. I’m willing to bet there won’t be any that top Three Kings– not only is it a great war movie, a great action movie, a great movie in general, it seems to sum up and represent America’s foreign policy in a lot of creative ways, if not subtly.
Director David O. Russell follows four American soldiers in Iraq (a noble cynic, George Clooney, who shines in an early, politically-charged role; a stern, religious Ice Cube; a young, naive Mark Wahlberg; a younger and naiver, and very funny, Spike Jonze) as they attempt to steal gold from the Iraqis. This gold originally belonged to Kuwait, and Iraq has been ordered to return everything stolen from Kuwait- this is the pretense under which our American heroes retrieve the gold, though the soldiers have no intention of returning the gold when they obtain it. Russell begins the movie like an adventure movie, and then detours it into a story of deep cultural conflict and moral ambiguity. The effects of our presence in Iraq (the first time) complicate things for our heroes, and they must make decisions that funnily enough seem to be a microcosm* of the choices America has to make when it polices foreign countries.
Great movie- blatantly liberal at times. But at some points political sentiment goes out the window, and it’s just about ordinary people and the way choices made for political reasons affect their lives. This movie may turn certain stereotypes upside-down.
*I hate it when big words are the most fitting, because I feel like a pompous jerk when I use them
Albums I Liked:
Break It Yourself by Andrew Bird: Bird’s been around for a while, but this is the first album of his I’ve listened to. I knew of him as the guy who whistles and loops violins, but unfortunately I don’t have a context for this album. All I can say is that it’s beautiful. Each song has a definite and distinct texture to it, and it’s apparent that Bird has a unique creativity. You can compare his sound to that of other musicians, but he seems intent on remaining his own artist and making music that refuses to fall under a certain label. If I didn’t quite connect with it in a “love it!” sense, it may be because I respond better to more direct lyrics (see: the Boss, below) and less abstract arrangements, the same reason why I can’t really get into Beach House or Grizzly Bear and why the Shins only have one album that wowed me. Favorite songs: “Near Death Experience Experience” “Danse Caribe” “Orpheo Looks Back”
Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen: Sometimes it’s hard for me to figure out how Bruce Springsteen fits into the musical world of today. God knows he won’t find any playing time on radio, though I, for one, am thankful for that. Radioplay sure doesn’t mean anything these days. Do you listen to the radio? Do you like it? If you answered yes to either of those questions, that’s okay, but I’m sad for you.
However, after having released his 8th studio album to reach number 1 on Billboard’s Top 200, and after he just gave the keynote address at South by Southwest, something about him must still be relevant. Maybe it’s the fact that his songs are always either brilliant storytelling or indelibly relatable or both. His more recent albums can add “urgent” to those superlatives, and none more so than his newest, Wrecking Ball. Wrecking Ball is timely in its anger and in its hope. Springsteen rails against politicians and bankers alike and stands up for the average American. He does this through inspired storytelling and various kinds of instrumental backing, from folksy guitar to hip-hop-style drums. He enlists help from his E Street Band, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, and a memorable Michelle Moore (on the track “Rocky Ground”), among others.
Full disclosure: Springsteen is my favorite musician ever. More than the Beatles, more than any Christian artist or band, more than any folk musician. His songs speak to me in a way no one else has ever been able to. You may not have the safe affection for Bruce Springsteen, but try this new album anyway. Wrecking Ball‘s songs reliably moved me, but more than any Springsteen album yet, Wrecking Ball engaged me past its stories and into the goings-on of the world around me. Favorite songs: “We Take Care of Our Own” “Shackled and Drawn” “Land of Hope and Dreams”
Songs I Loved:
“Land of Hope and Dreams” by Bruce Springsteen: If you don’t want none of that newfangled production Bruce is using on his new album, then look to the song that he originated with his wonderfully blue-collar E Street Band. Springsteen’s recorded this song before- live with the E Street crew in 2001- but in the context of Wrecking Ball it truly comes to life. Perhaps the most unabashedly Christian song he’s written to date (though he’s never professed to believe in any particular faith), Springsteen invites saints and sinners, whores and gamblers, losers and winners onto a train going to a land where “dreams will not be thwarted…faith will be rewarded.” I’m on board.
“Near Death Experience Experience” by Andrew Bird: The most straightforward of the songs on Bird’s new album Break It Yourself. It’s also the creepiest, musing on death and survival. Bird’s lyrics describe someone who “dare[s] the plane to crash / redeem the miles for cash when it starts to dive.” Bold words in this supersensitive, post-9/11 era, but Bird’s sentiment is strangely uplifting when he exhorts us to “dance like cancer survivors / like we’re simply grateful to be alive.”
“Shackled and Drawn” by Bruce Springsteen: A supreme example of Springsteen’s storytelling genius. He’s a father singing to his son, teaching him the value of hard work. He likens freedom to “a dirty shirt / The sun on my face and my shovel in the dirt.” This is Springsteen’s ode to the working man, and yet it’s also a scathing kissoff to the rich. Yes, conservatives, this is a liberal song. But it’s the best dang liberal song of the year so far (with the exception of another Springsteen song- see below).
“We Take Care of Our Own” by Bruce Springsteen: Is there a more subtly seething song out there? Amid happy chimes and hand-claps, the Boss calmly indicts everyone in power who has failed to help those Americans who needed it. Upon first listen, “We Take Care” sounds like an inspirational, patriotic, American anthem, and it is. But on further inspection, Springsteen has laden his best song since “Long Walk Home” with anger and outrage, asking “Where’re the eyes, the eyes with the will to see / Where’re the hearts that run over with mercy?” Ultimately, he reminds anyone listening that we, each one of us, as Americans, should take care of our own.